Windows 8.1

It’s safe to say by now, that getting to know Windows 8.1 relies almost entirely on the Start screen environment. While we cover some desktop aspects in the final two lessons, we operate under the assumption that despite Microsoft’s acquiescence to traditional Windows users, Windows itself will continue to evolve with touch in mind.

Windows 8.1’s privacy settings apply specifically to Windows Store apps, which is too bad because there’s actually some good stuff there that we’d like to see implemented system-wide. What Microsoft has done is encouraging. It’s nice that you can disable the webcam and microphone on specific apps so it’s a good step toward a safer online presence.

The system’s network settings are still scattered between the Start environment and the desktop. What you can do in the PC Settings is kind of limited. In order to really get in there and configure your network and connections, the Control Panel is still the best place to do that. For the most part, we’ll brush over this because How-To Geek School recently covered Windows networking extensively. The same holds true for HomeGroups.

As we mentioned, the remaining settings are fairly simple. We’ll briefly pass over Time and Language before devoting some time to Update and Recovery. There’s a little bit for everyone in this lesson so let’s dive in and talk first about Privacy.


We like that the Privacy settings exist because, with a whole new app platform, it’s very important that privacy settings be clear and cohesive. Most of the time, we’re accustomed to configuring privacy settings app by app. With Windows 8.1, you can attend to this in a centralized location making your privacy easier and more assured.

Here, we see five simple areas that you can probably get a quick handle on.

It’s important to remember that these settings are for Windows Store apps and as we’ll see, you can’t do anything with regard to desktop apps. To that end, if you want to adjust your privacy settings for your desktop environment, you will have do so to each particular application.


Here the General settings are five items you can enable or disable.

With the General settings, you can let your apps access and use your name, picture, and other account info. To be honest, a lot of apps do this regardless of platform so if you’re super security conscious, you can turn this off but it’s unlikely to reveal a lot of information about you.

You can turn off your advertising ID, which means you’ll still see ads in your apps, but they won’t be personalized based on your Microsoft account.

Turning off the Smartscreen Filter is ill advised. The Smartscreen Filter checks websites against a database and blocks them if they’re malicious. To learn more about Smartscreen, check out our How-To Geek School lesson on it.

If you turn off typing suggestions, then Windows won’t attempt to anticipate what word you’re typing. This is okay to leave enabled unless you hate being bothered with such a feature.

Finally, if you use more than one language, then you can let websites provide locally relevant content based on that. Of these, the first two settings are the most privacy sensitive.


You should be familiar with location-based content by now. It’s a common feature in mobile systems, which allows platforms to deliver specialized local content to your device. So for example, if you search for taco restaurants, your device knows to show you taco restaurants nearby.

The nice thing about the Windows Location settings is that you can turn it off completely, or you can turn it on or off on a per app basis.

Webcam and Microphone

If you have a laptop made in the last few years, then most definitely have a webcam and with it a microphone. These setting should honestly be rolled into one page, but you get the idea at a glance. If you want to disable apps from using your webcam, then turn it off, or if you want to explicitly allow apps, you can do that instead.

Similarly, with the Microphone settings, you can do the same thing, turn it off completely, or allow/disallow specific apps.

This is pretty simple and straightforward. It’s nice that such settings exist and that they’re in a central location and that you do not have to attend to each app separately.

Other Devices

The Other Devices settings will display any devices that allow you to control app access. If there are any such devices on your device or system, you can enable or disable them here.


Windows Networking has come a long way since the early days when even dialing into an Internet service provider could be a total pain. Today, it’s usually a simple matter of connecting to a hotspot or your wireless router (or even just plugging your computer into it) and entering your Wi-Fi password.

Beyond that, you get into networking’s other aspects. It’s hard to think of simply connecting to the Internet as “networking.” In fact, networking your home computers is still one of the more reliable and easy ways to share files.

Yes, thumbdrives and external hard drives have made transporting files from one computer to another substantially easier, but that requires a good deal more effort than simply visiting a computer in another room (or another state) and plucking what you need without ever leaving your chair.

We recently published an entire series on Windows networking, which we urge you to check out to fully achieve mastery. You can then follow that up with an entire series on how to secure your Windows network.

What follows from here, is a basic introduction to Windows 8.1’s Network PC Settings.


Connections displays your currently available connections and allows you to click on each one to change its security settings, data usage, and see the connection’s properties such as SSID, MAC address, and IP address.

These settings, particularly the “find devices and content” one, are important and you should know about them. In Windows 8, it was possible to simply right-click on the connection from network connections pane and change your connection’s network visibility but it has obviously been rolled into the connections settings.

The connections settings are fine if you want to quickly administer to them but in order to really attend to your Network Connections, you will of course, still want to use the control panel version.

Note, you may have noticed a link under the WiFi connections to “manage known networks” and wondered what that was all about. Well, some time ago we wrote an article on how to forget wireless networks in Windows 8.1. Turns out it was kind of a laborious process but very doable. Thankfully, Microsoft has taken all the labor out of forgetting networks. Originally, you could only easily forget wireless networks you were in range of, otherwise they were stored in the registry and you could delete them from the command line, or by hacking the registry and deleting them there.

Now you can simply choose the “manage known networks” and you’ll see all the wireless networks that you’ve ever accessed. Simply go through the list and delete each one you no longer need.

Such improvements show that Microsoft is listening and making changes but like we said, the real power is still in the Control Panel.

If you want to know far more about your network connections, we urge you to read more about Windows networking in our How-To Geek School series on sharing files and resources.

Airplane Mode

Anyone who’s ever used a cell phone or tablet on an airplane should already know what Airplane Mode is all about.

The settings found here are somewhat superfluous since they’re more easily accessible from the Networks pane.

In fact, if you click “view connection settings” you will be whisked to the PC Settings, which demonstrates how much more inefficient it is if you want to disable Wi-Fi or put your device into airplane mode.


If you don’t know what a proxy is, then you don’t need to worry about this section. It’s safe to say, most Windows users probably don’t use a proxy server. Today, most proxy servers are meant to provide controlled access to the Internet and usually anonymity.

For example, if you connected to the Internet directly, your IP address would be exposed and your activity on the Internet can then be tied to it. If you connect to a proxy server, however, you can essentially mask your IP address with the proxy server’s, meaning that if many users connect to that same proxy server, then it’s technically impossible to discern who is accessing what content.

Windows 8.1 provides a new look on proxy settings. Shown below, you can set up your proxy to be detected automatically.

If you turn off automatic proxy detection, you will have to set it up manually. Note, you can whitelist certain websites that you do not want to connect to through a proxy. This might useful in case your proxy server’s requests are rejected or you’re having troubles accessing all of a site’s resources.

It’s important to note that if you connect to the Internet through a virtual private network (VPN), your proxy settings will not be applied. If you do not know what a VPN is, we suggest you check out this lesson in our How-To Geek series on Windows Networking.

Before we end, note that the old proxy dialog is still available through the Internet Options control panel under the “Connections” tab.

This dialog is also accessible from desktop Internet Explorer, from the gear menu as “Internet Options.”


We’re going to breeze over the HomeGroup settings because we’ve written extensively about them already in a past How-To Geek School series. Suffice to say, a HomeGroup is basically a dead simple way to share resources over your home network. When you turn on the HomeGroup, you simply choose what you want to share (Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos, Printers), and you’re done.

Note the password shown at the bottom of the settings. When you connect to the HomeGroup from another computer, you simply enter that password, and you can access the sharing computer’s stuff. Conversely, you can share stuff from the connecting computers, so it really does act like a little home network.

You can make the password whatever you like really, so it’s not so hard to remember. You can also add content to your HomeGroup by including it your libraries. We talk more about libraries in our How-To Geek series on PC maintenance.


If you want to access workplace resources such as internal network locations and business apps from your own personal device, you can enter you user ID and click “Join.”

This will depend entirely on whether your workplace and IT administrator. If they don’t know anything about this, or you don’t use your own device, then there’s no need to concern yourself with this setting.

Time and Language

Chances are pretty good you’ll set your language, region, date, and time once and likely never mess with them again. But if you’re a road warrior and you frequently change time zones, or travel to new regions, or are simply multilingual, then these settings are good to know about.

Let’s break briefly break each one down and examine its Control Panel equivalent.

Date and Time

From this, you can manually change your device’s date and time or leave it on automatic. There are also controls to change your time zone and automatically adjust for daylight saving time.

This looks a lot like what you can do using the Date and Time control panel, though here you have the option to add clocks to the desktop clock, as well as choose a different time server.

Below you’ll see your date and time formats in the PC Settings, plus an option to change them.

This is has the same purpose as the Region control panel, on which you will find the “Formats” tab.

Take note that the Region control panel also has a “Location” tab, which has the same purpose as on the Region and Language settings, discussed next.

Region and Language

On the Region and Language PC Settings, you can select your country or region such as you would from the “Format” tab on the Region control panel. There’s nothing more to it than that.

You can also switch and/or add languages from here. When you change your language, it doesn’t change the language of your operating system. Stuff like menus, dialogs, applications, and all that will still appear in the language it was coded to. If you want Windows to operate in a different language, you’d have to actually buy the OS in that language.

That said, you can change your input language (keyboard layout), meaning that whatever you type will return characters in the language you’re using.

The same thing can be accomplished from the Language control panel.

Update and Recovery

Windows has been easy to keep updated for as long as Windows Update has been around, but backups and recovery were usually a mixed bag. In Windows 8, Microsoft introduced an improved backup option called File History along with new Recovery options.

It rolled all this and Windows Update into PC Settings, while retaining Control Panel versions so you have plenty of options no matter if you’re on a touchscreen or mouse and keyboard.

Windows Update

Windows Update made its appearance in Windows 95 as a separate website you had to visit from Internet Explorer. It’s now fully integrated and can automatically (recommended) download/install updates without any user interaction.

Along with the new PC Settings version, you also get the tried-and-true Control Panel counterpart, which operates and functions just like it did in Windows 7.

We have covered Windows Update at length in an earlier series, we definitely recommend you check it out if you want to know everything about keeping your computer updated.

File History

Prior to Windows 8, you could back something up only by using the backup utility, which was cumbersome and needed to either be scheduled or run manually. File History changes all that by implementing incremental backups instead of periodic ones.

What this means for you is that you can set File History to back up your media libraries at regular intervals, so that as you work on your files, be they musical compositions, documents, or images, versions will be automatically backed up.

The result of this means that you have a continuous record of file versions so if you make some catastrophic boo-boo, and need to restore an earlier version of a file, File History lets you do this easily. We have covered File History on How-To Geek before so if you want to know all about it and how it works, we recommend you check it out!


Windows 8 introduced some new recovery options, which include among other things, an “Advanced Startup” option that will allow you to recover your system as if you pressed the F8 button while booting an earlier Windows system.

Among other things, you will find options to “Refresh your PC without affecting your files” and “Remove everything and reinstall Windows.” The difference as you see in the screenshot is that refreshing leaves you photos, music, videos ,and other personal files intact while “Remove” basically erases your installation and replaces it with a factory-fresh one.

While the former two options need little explaining, the “Advanced Startup” options might need some deeper inspection. We have some great articles on How-To Geek about Windows 8.1’s recovery options and we recommend you read through them so you know how to get your system back in case of disaster.


That’s it for the Start screen and PC Settings! As you may have noticed, there is a lot going on but it’s all pretty easy and as Windows 8 evolves, it’s maturing and gaining more useful (some might say common sense) functionality such as the aforementioned mouse controls.

Please take some more time to browse through the rest of these PC Settings and read any of the linked articles in case you want to know more about HomeGroups, Networking, and Recovery.

Tomorrow, we finally shift our focus away from the Start screen environment with a thorough examination of the WIN+X menu. This menu is akin to a sort of mini Start menu. It contains some essential functionality, but it also consists of some very useful links to various control panels and management consoles.

Profile Photo for Matt Klein Matt Klein
Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He's covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He's even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8.
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